Romans 3


Paul was faced with a dilemma. The Jewish segment of the Roman church was teaching that righteousness came by living the Law of Moses. For them, the power of the atonement was a new concept. They did not understand how much they needed the saving grace of Jesus Christ. They mistakenly thought they could get to heaven on their own merits if they just kept the law. Furthermore, they were critical of Gentile members who did not keep all the rabbinical rules of the Mosaic Law.

What does Paul do to counter this false doctrine? He teaches them the necessity of faith, grace, and God's mercy. He explains why the atonement is necessary and how it works. Those who misinterpret Paul's writings seem to forget his purpose in writing. On the faith and works spectrum, the Jews were so far off the deep end that they needed to be brought back into the middle. Ironically, Christianity has used the doctrine of this chapter to go off the deep end the other way-teaching that faith is the only requirement for salvation.

"Since the scriptures-not just the Bible but all the scriptures-discuss the importance of both grace and works, we are not at liberty to choose sides or to throw out one in favor of the other. Any theological view that slights the vital role of either grace or works is defective. Luther was wrong to ignore James. Latter-day Saints are wrong to shy away from Paul. Both James and Paul wrote the word of God. Both the Epistle of James and the Epistle to the Romans are scripture. Unfortunately, some LDS missionaries, when confronted with Paul's 'By grace are ye saved' (Ephesians 2:8) or 'A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law' (Romans 3:28) have counterattacked with James' 'Faith without works is dead' (James 2:26) as though Paul was wrong or as though James somehow cancels out Paul. But Paul was an apostle of the Lord, and his letters are just as much the word of God as the letter from James (see the eighth Article of Faith). We cannot choose sides between grace and works-both must be right!" (Stephen E. Robinson, Following Christ: The Parable of the Divers and More Good News [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 80.)

Joseph Fielding Smith

"So Paul taught these people-who thought that they could be saved by some power that was within them, or by observing the law of Moses-he pointed out to them the fact that if it were not for the mission of Jesus Christ, if it were not for this great atoning sacrifice, they could not be redeemed. And therefore it was by the grace of God that they are saved, not by any work on their part, for they were absolutely helpless. Paul was absolutely right." (Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., edited by Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-1956], 2: 310.)

JST Romans 3:1 What advantage then hath the Jew over the Gentile?

Bruce R. McConkie

"As a prelude to his great proclamation that men are justified by faith in Christ, without reference to the performances of the Mosaic law, Paul here discusses the status of the Jews, through whom the Mosaic requirements were revealed.

"Yes, the Jews of old were favored above all people because they alone had the laws of salvation and knew the mind of God. Yes, the Jews had the law of Moses and were therefore under greater obligation to conform to righteous principles than were other men. Yes, the law of circumcision profited men anciently because it bore record of their covenant with and devotion to the God of Israel.

"But, No, the Jews of Paul's day were no better off than their Gentile associates because they no longer walked in the paths of their fathers. No, they were no longer lights to the world because they violated the laws which God had given them. No, there was no longer preferential status for them because the gospel is now for all men. No, they were not justified (and thus saved) through conformity to Mosaic principles alone.

"And, Yes, as he was now ready to say, both Jew and Gentile must turn to Christ, and worship and serve him with full purpose of heart, to be justified through the cleansing power of his blood." (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 2: 227.)

Romans 3:2 unto them were committed the oracles of God

Bruce R. McConkie

"Revelations given by God through his prophets are oracles. (Acts 7:38; Rom. 3:2; Heb. 5:12.) The First Presidency are appointed 'to receive the oracles for the whole church.' (D. & C. 124:126.) When these revelations or oracles are given to the people, the recipients are under solemn obligation to walk in the light thus manifest. 'And all they who receive the oracles of God, let them beware how they hold them lest they are accounted as a light thing, and are brought under condemnation thereby, and stumble and fall when the storms descend, and the winds blow, and the rains descend, and beat upon their house.' (D. & C. 90:5.)" (Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 547.)

Romans 3:4 let God be true, but every man a liar...that thou mightest be justified

Paul is not suggesting that men should lie. He is saying that every man is a liar compared to God. He is saying, "You self-righteous Jews need to humble yourselves and understand how weak you are in comparison to God. You should not boast about being a keeper of the law but acknowledge that you are a breaker of the law." Paul could have used the language of King Benjamin, who taught the same doctrine saying, 'I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness' (Mosiah 4:11).

Once one understands that he is a liar compared to God's perfection, he acknowledges the need for a higher power. Such acknowledgement leads to faith and repentance whereby an individual may be justified before God. Such an acknowledgement brings the power of God's grace to make up the difference so that he can overcome on Judgment Day, being justified by grace, after all he could do (see 2 Ne. 25:23).

Romans 3:8 Let us do evil that good may come

One of Satan's best devices is to take a true doctrinal principle and distort it. When individuals wrest the scriptures unto their own destruction, they do so at the bidding of Satan. This happened in the early church as well as today. When Paul taught that God's grace becomes operative when we sin, some of the Romans distorted that to mean that they should sin in order to obtain God's grace. As Elder Maxwell noted, they were 'suggesting that since God provides a way for us to be saved from our sins, we should sin in order to allow Him to do that great good! ("From the Beginning," Ensign, Nov. 1993, 18) The latter-day version of this distorted doctrine has been taught by one Protestant theologian who wrote, "'The only thing of my very own which I can contribute to my redemption is the sin from which I need to be redeemed.'" (Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 178 - 179.) Of those Romans who taught and practiced such distorted doctrine, Paul said that their 'damnation is just.' Those in our day who practice evil expecting to receive God's grace should likewise plan on damnation not salvation.

Romans 3:10-18 As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one

Although portions of these 9 verses are contained in various places in our Old Testament, it would seem that Paul is quoting a psalm which is now missing. The psalmist expounds upon the characteristics of the wicked, but Paul uses this reference because it explains that all of us are guilty, to some degree or another, of the wickedness of the carnal man.

" President Ezra Taft Benson observed, people do not yearn for salvation in Christ until they know why they need Christ, which thing they cannot know until they understand and acknowledge the Fall and its effects upon all mankind. The atonement of Jesus Christ is inextricably and eternally tied to the Fall of Adam and Eve. To attempt to offer the solution without a knowledge of the problem is to teach the Atonement in the abstract, to lessen its impact, to mitigate its transforming power in the lives of men and women. Thus it is that the Apostle Paul began at the beginning; he laid stress where it needed to be. Quoting the Psalmist, he affirmed: 'There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one' (Romans 3:10-12; see also Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3)." (Robert L. Millet, Selected Writings of Robert L. Millet: Gospel Scholars Series [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2000], 70.)

Romans 3:19 that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God

"Paul stressed that salvation is through Christ and that the works of the Mosaic law and the works of the world are insufficient to justify man. For one thing, he stressed that the law of Moses was a system established to point out one's need for a redeemer. 'By the deeds of the law,' he wrote, 'there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.' Why should this be the case? The Apostle answered, 'For by the law is the knowledge of sin.' (Rom. 3:20.) One of the main functions of the law, with its myriad parts, was to demonstrate man's inability to live perfectly by every moral requirement. One translation of Romans 3:20 is as follows: 'Indeed it is the straight edge of the Law which shows us how crooked we are.' (Phillips Translation.) The law of Moses was given 'to specify crimes' (Jerusalem Bible), that is, to establish right and wrong but also to delineate human limitations and to point up the need for divine assistance." (Robert L. Millet, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6: Acts to Revelation [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 47 - 48.)

Romans 3:20 by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight

Bruce R. McConkie

"Does salvation come, then, by works? No, not by the works of the law of Moses, and for that matter, not even by the more perfect works of the gospel itself. Salvation comes through Christ's atonement, through the ransom he paid, the propitiation he made; without this no good works on the part of men could redeem them from temporal death, which redemption is resurrection, or redeem them from spiritual death, which redemption is eternal life." (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 2: 231.)

Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested

God's great plan of happiness was a mystery to the Jews because they did not understand the symbolism of the Law of Moses. 'But now' says Paul God's righteousness is revealed. At the time Paul wrote this epistle, the Law of Moses had been around for 1500 years. The idea that Jesus could redeem Israel by what he suffered in Gethsemane and Golgotha was new, having occurred only 25 years earlier. Paul understood what his Jewish counterparts could not-that Jesus' atoning sacrifice brought about God's great plan of salvation. It became the great symbol of God's righteousness and love. It demonstrated that God's grace and mercy were required to save his children. It was proof of God's plan, 'for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son' (John 3:16) as a sacrifice for sin. 25 years later, the converted Jews were still struggling with this concept.

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God

"[One of our dilemmas-possibly] the greatest of all human problems, is simple enough-I sin every day, and so do you. None of us is innocent in the celestial sense. We fail to be perfect on a more or less regular basis. Our actions are inconsistent with the behavior required for being worthy of the divine presence in the kingdom of God. One of the many scriptures illustrating this can be found in Romans 3:23: 'For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.'

"In other words, all human beings, even the best among us, have committed sins or have displayed imperfections that are incompatible with the celestial standard and that God cannot tolerate. Here as elsewhere, Paul implies that there are only two categories: For him either you are perfect or you are a sinner in some degree. There is no middle ground. After all, one little sin was sufficient to get Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden and out of God's presence. While they were totally innocent, they could walk and talk with him-one transgression, and they were gone.

"Now from these two facts-God's absolute demand for perfection and our absolute inability to come up with it-one conclusion is inescapable: we cannot be allowed to dwell in the presence of God, sinful and imperfect beings as we are. This contradiction between God's demands and our inability to carry them out represents the most serious problem with the direst consequences in all the universe." (Stephen E. Robinson, Believing Christ: The Parable of the Bicycle and Other Good News [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992], 3.)

"Paul points out that any claim to righteousness based on one's own efforts to keep the commandments requires a perfect record. One slip and you are no longer perfect...In other words, since everyone has broken the law, no one can claim to be righteous by virtue of having kept the law. To make matters worse, the law itself pronounces the curse on anyone who is not perfect in keeping all the commandments. (See Deut. 27:26.) Yet because of our fallen natures, it was frankly impossible for human beings to keep all the terms of the old covenant. Therefore, at least from the perspective of Paul in the first century, God in his mercy has provided a new covenant, an agreement with terms we can keep. Jesus Christ is the one who redeems us from the curse of the law-from the demand for perfect performance-by offering a new means of justification, not by law (keeping all the rules all the time), but by faith in Christ." (Stephen E. Robinson, Believing Christ: The Parable of the Bicycle and Other Good News [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992], 41.)

"The scriptures are consistent in their declaration that no unclean thing can enter into God's kingdom. In theory there are two ways by which men and women may inherit eternal life. The first is simply to live the law of God perfectly, to make no mistakes. To do so is to be justified-pronounced innocent, declared blameless-by works or by law. To say this another way, if we keep the commandments completely (including receiving the sacraments or ordinances of salvation), never deviating from the strait and narrow path throughout our mortal lives, then we qualify for the blessings of the obedient. And yet we encounter on every side the terrible truth that all are unclean as a result of sin. (Rom. 3:23.) All of us have broken at least one of the laws of God and therefore disqualify ourselves for justification by law. Moral perfection may be a possibility, but it is certainly not a probability. Jesus alone trod that path. 'Therefore,' Paul observed, 'by the deeds of the law'-meaning the law of Moses, as well as any law of God-'there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.' (Rom. 3:20; compare Book of Mormon, 2 Ne. 2:5.)

"The second way to be justified is by faith; it is for the sinner to be pronounced clean or innocent through trusting in and relying upon the merits of Him who answered the ends of the law. (Rom. 10:4; compare Book of Mormon, 2 Ne. 2:6-7.) Jesus owed no personal debt to justice. Because we are guilty of transgression, if there had been no atonement of Christ, no amount of good deeds on our part, no nobility independent of divine intercession, could make up for the loss. Truly, 'since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself.' (Book of Mormon, Alma 22:14.) Thus He who loved us first (1 Jn. 4:10, 19) reaches out to the lost and fallen, to the disinherited, and proposes a marriage. The Infinite One joins with the finite, the Finished with the unfinished, the Whole with the partial, in short, the Perfect with the imperfect. Through covenant with Christ and thus union with the Bridegroom, we place ourselves in a condition to become fully formed, whole, finished-to become perfect in Christ. (See Book of Mormon, Moro. 10:32.)" (Robert L. Millet, The Mormon Faith: Understanding Restored Christianity [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1998], 71.)

Romans 3:25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation

Propitiation means a sacrifice to bring favor with God or to restore harmony to one's relationship with God. In this sense, it is a synonym of "atonement."

Romans 3:25 through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins

Paul's goal in teaching that 'all have sinned' (v. 23) is not to make the Romans feel bad; it is to give them an understanding of their need for divine help. Such an understanding increases one's faith and encourages repentance. An understanding of the Fall leads to an understanding of the Atonement which engenders an increase of faith which encourages repentance. Thus the final result is repentance and righteous works. In the end, an understanding that we can't keep the law perfectly helps us to keep it more perfectly.

"Since 'all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God' ("Rom. 3:23), then all need the redemptive power gained through repentance and forgiveness. The debts we would most want to be relieved of are our debts to justice when we have sinned. Such relief is available through repentance." (S. Brent Farley, Studies in Scripture, Vol. 8: Alma 30 to Moroni, ed. by Kent P. Jackson, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1988], 157.)

Bruce C. Hafen

"Significantly, all of us, including those who learn from the pain of a wounded conscience, need the Savior's help in compensating for the effects of our mistakes as well as our deliberate sins. For that reason Paul could say, 'All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.' (Romans 3:23; emphasis added.) For that reason the Lord told Adam, 'Wherefore teach it unto your children, that all men, everywhere, must repent [and be baptized], . . . for no unclean thing can dwell in his presence. . . .' (Moses 6:57; emphasis added.) These statements are true not because of original sin or because all men are inherently evil by nature. They are true because the universal trial-and-error process of learning from experience means all have erred. It is part of the process. The process is good, if we learn from the errors. But learning alone is not enough, for payment must be made to balance the scales of justice after our errors have tipped them toward the negative side. That payment can be made by the Savior's Atonement, through application of the law of mercy, if we but repent by accepting him and by learning to live better through our experience." (The Broken Heart: Applying the Atonement to Life's Experiences [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989], 138.)

Ezra Taft Benson

"Why must faith in the Lord precede true repentance?

"To answer this question, we must understand something about the atoning sacrifice of the Master. Lehi taught that 'no flesh ... can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah.' (2 Ne. 2:8.) Even the most just and upright man cannot save himself solely on his own merits, for, as the Apostle Paul tells us, 'all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.' (Rom. 3:23.)

"If it were not for the perfect, sinless life of the Savior, which He willingly laid down for us, there could be no remission of sins... Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which sincere and meaningful repentance must be built. If we truly seek to put away sin, we must first look to Him who is the Author of our salvation." ("A Mighty Change of Heart," Ensign, Oct. 1989, 2)

Romans 3:27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded

Were the Jews justified in boasting of their righteousness? They needed to hear the speech of King Benjamin, 'I say, if ye should serve [God] with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants...therefore, of what have ye to boast? And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth' (Mosian 2:21-25).

Romans 3:28 a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law

"'Man is justified by faith.' (Rom. 3:28.) This passage is used primarily by the Protestants to justify their break from the mother church. The general claim is that the fundamental requirement for salvation is but to 'believe' in Christ.

"'If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, ... thou shalt be saved.' (Rom. 10:9.) This verse is interpreted by some to indicate the sole act necessary to achieve salvation.

"By so applying these interpretations, true ordinances are ignored, compliance with the commandments to fully qualify the individual is neglected, and finally, the legitimate authority to officially represent the Lord, both to declare the message and execute the ordinances, is disregarded. These statements must be applied within the context of the doctrine of justification; and justification always presupposes righteous actions. (Cf. Rom. 1:17; Rom. 2:6, 13.)" (Edward J. Brandt, "New Testament Backgrounds: Romans," Ensign, Jan. 1976, 83)

Spencer J. Condie

"Martin Luther and some of the other early Reformers were impressed by Paul's Epistle to the Romans in which he wrote: 'Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law' (Rom. 3:28). Luther felt so strongly about the importance of faith expressed in this verse that he translated it into German with a word added-'justified by faith alone.' This, of course, created a great controversy among the Catholic theologians of the day, who held to the notion that the sacraments or ordinances of the Church were necessary for salvation.

"Legend has it that as Luther was translating the New Testament and came upon James's epistle, he declared that this epistle was 'straw,' for James declared: 'Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone' (James 2:17).

"The tension between faith and works, grace and ordinances, is readily resolved in Nephi's teaching 'that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do' (2 Ne. 25:23)." (In Perfect Balance [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1993], 56.)

Gerald N. Lund

"...remember that Paul said we are justified through and by faith (see Gal. 2:16; Rom. 3:28), which is the first principle of the gospel. In other words, faith is the principle that activates the power of the Atonement in our lives, and we are put back into a proper relationship with God (justification) as faith activates that power. There are marvelous implications in this concept, and perhaps another analogy can help us see more clearly the role faith and works play in achieving salvation:

"We are like a powerhouse on a mighty river. The powerhouse has no power residing in itself; the potential power rests in the energy of the river. When that source of power flows through the generators of the power plant, power is transferred from the river to the power plant and sent out into the homes (lives) of others. So it is with faith. The power to achieve justification does not reside in man. Man requires the power of the atonement of Christ flowing into him. If no power is being generated, one does not-indeed, cannot-turn the generators by hand (justification by works); but rather, an effort is made to remove those things which have blocked the power from flowing into the generators (working righteousness as a result of faith). With this background then, one can understand why the scriptures clearly stress that faith includes works (see James 2:17-26); that is, obedience, commitment, and repentance-these are the works of faith that open up the channels so that the power of the atoning sacrifice of Christ can flow into us, redeem us from sin, and bring us back into the presence of God. Disobedience and wickedness dam those channels. (How literal is the word damnation!) The righteous works in themselves do not save us. The atoning power of God saves us. But our righteous works, activated by our faith in the Savior, are the condition for the operation of that power. Thus, each of us has something to say about whether he will be able to seek the gift and power of the Atonement in his behalf." ("Salvation: By Grace or by Works?" Ensign, Apr. 1981, 22-23)

Romans 3:31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law

"What is the difference between salvation by grace alone [as Luther taught] and salvation by grace? In the one case, God's grace operates to save mankind through faith by itself. In the other case, God's grace operates to rescue them as they show faith by their own serious efforts. Truckloads of tracts have been distributed to Latter-day Saints in an attempt to prove that the latter view is wrong. These are composed with tunnel vision because they have a narrow range of quotations, using little else than Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. Indeed, Luther said that these three books-with 1 Peter, John's Gospel, and 1 John, would 'teach everything you need to know for your salvation, even if you were never to see or hear any other book or hear any other teaching.' Thus, oversimplification goes beyond a Bible sufficient for salvation to only six books of the Bible as sufficient for salvation...In this perspective, Protestant theology is not so much wrong as half right, akin to taking the oxygen out of the basic formula for water that requires two parts of hydrogen and one part oxygen. When preaching grace, Paul says that more is to follow. He asks, 'Do we then make void the law through faith?' Definitely not, he answers, 'we establish the law' ("Rom. 3:31)." (Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 179 - 180.)